Everyone in our family has a smart phone, except my husband. I love my phone and my children, two teens and a tween, love theirs. I play Words With Friends and check my Facebook feed compulsively, which is to say, I don’t consider technology to be the enemy of our next generation’s moral formation—I love it.
Texting is like a whole new language to use with my kids. They don’t punctuate; I do. I don’t have Snapchat; they do. I think about three percent of the Vines they show me are funny, but they show me anyway. Most of my friends enjoy similar relationships with their children via technology—having constant contact is both fun and irritating, just like most things we have going for us in this parenting life.
There is one thing I do differently from a lot of my other mom and dad friends: I don’t track my kids.
“I share my location with my friends,” my daughter tells me. I finally know that she’s referring to their phones being able to locate each other through whatever social media app they’re using. I’m old, so my social media is mostly Facebook. I know how the “Check In” button works and I notice it, especially when someone ominously posts that they’ve “Checked In” to the hospital and are asking for thoughts and prayers. I use that feature when I want to share with the world that my coffee shop is the best, or whatever. But that’s not what I’m talking about here—I’m talking about tracking my kids’ whereabouts.
Most of my friends who have children with phones track their children through their phone’s location. There are many ways to do this, and if you do it with your kids, you already know how to do it way better than I do. I believe my friends would tell you that they track their kids for safety, so that “I can find them if they’re in a ditch somewhere!” This is, I know, true.
We’re supposed to do what we can to keep our kids safe. Tracking my children’s location is just not how I choose to do it. I know they’re going to school. When my son drives to Starbucks, I know where he’s going—and even to the shop where bongs are sold. I know this because my son tells me. My daughter texts me all the time. She is hungry for interaction and activity, all the time. I’m at Wendy’s. What time are you coming? I’m coming in ten minutes, for Pete’s sake. Cool your texts, little girlie!
But the deeper reason that parents track location is more likely because they want to see what their kids are up to. They’re snooping. Which, let’s face it, is our job as parents. I don’t know why the idea of tracking my kids seems creepy rather than safe to me, but it does. I know my kids lie to me, or if they haven’t, they will.
But I’d rather have them know that I respect their privacy and trust them to come clean when they lie than grill them about why they spent so long at whatever location the GPS tells my phone.
If I’m going to snoop in their lives, I’d like to do it to their faces like we’re all people who deserve respect, not like one of us is a target. I hope that my children will take my trust as a sign that they’re trustworthy, and act accordingly.
I was having coffee with my daughter’s boyfriend’s mom the other day. We were rolling our eyes about the various dramas and traumas our children were dealing with and as the time grew close for the bus to arrive, my friend pulled out her phone and frowned.
“Huh,” she said. “They haven’t left school yet.” She enlarged the location on her phone and looked more closely.
Where r u? I texted my daughter.
Almost there. Can we go to Taco Bell
“Emma says they’re almost here,” I told my friend.
She put her phone away and smiled. “Sometimes these apps are screwy.”
“They are,” I agreed, pretending that I know.
I might be making a big mistake (it happens in parenting) and I’m not judging if you track your little darlings. If it keeps you sane and your kids safe, rock on. I don’t know anyone who tracks their kids without the kids knowing it, which seems respectful enough. Still, I’d rather my kids tell me where they are, and not find out from their GPS signal, even if it means I get lied to sometimes. (I bet the moms who track their kids get lied to sometimes, too.)